A game of catchup: Talking to Scott RolenMay 13, 2016
By JASON RECKER
Scott Rolen has not played a professional baseball game since 2012, when he closed a major league career that covered 17 seasons. He knew it was time to go. His body barked. His family beckoned.
The 41-year-old Jasper native has since kept a quiet existence in Bloomington but was back in his hometown Thursday to talk about his charity work — formerly called the Enis Furley Foundation, it’s now rebranded as the E5 Foundation — and the help he’ll receive from the Old National Bank 100 Men Who Cook event in September.
The 1993 Jasper High School graduate played for four MLB organizations, earned a spot on seven all-star teams, won eight Gold Gloves and helped the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series title in 2006. Thursday, he went far deeper than that. It’s honest, reflective and witty. It’s typical Rolen.
What’s a day like for Scott Rolen these days?
Taking kids to school, coaching 12U softball and coaching 8U Little League baseball, running the foundation, dabble into a couple business things with a guy I know in Bloomington. It’s amazing how busy you are when you have nothing to do. It’s been enjoyable but most of the things are with my kids. They didn’t have a game tonight, and that’s why we scheduled this date to be here. If my little man was whipping a pole through the zone tonight, that’s where I’d be.
A former MLB player coaching youth sports. Is that more enjoyable or more frustrating for somebody who had so much success on that level?
It is, um, the biggest challenge I’ve had. I want to toe the line a little bit but I probably won’t because I don’t normally. I get confused by the competitiveness of adults in a children’s youth organization. This is rec league. I don’t play travel ball. Rec league stuff, I get confused by the end game. What’s for the kids — or what’s said is for the kids — from time to time in youth sports across the board, has been a project for me. Coaching and teaching the kids doesn’t seem to be the issue. It seems to be the spirit of the competition as to what age-appropriate competition feels like to adult rule-makers.
Are you a fair and equitable coach, everybody plays every position?
My kids play every position — well, I don’t want to get anybody hurt. My daughter (Raine, 11) sits the bench, plays outfield. My son (Finn, 8) plays outfield. We don’t know at 8 and 11 who is going to sewing class next year or is going to be a Division I college softball player. So why do we act like we know? In my opinion — now I don’t know this across the country — but I’m fairly sure there are no coaches trophies handed out at the end of each youth rec league. We keep it to fundamentals, keep it fun, play whiffle ball, make sure kids get their feet in the dirt and play some infield, move them around and teach them some positions. That’s a crazy thought sometimes.
How good were you when you were 8 or 11?
I had no idea in the world. I played up a level until Little League and they wouldn’t let me go to Pony League until I was 13. I just played. Loved the game. Loved to play. Played catch with (brother) Todd and my dad. It wasn’t a money-making industry at the time, I know that. Nobody was getting rich off kids playing sports, and don’t get me going on the soap box. ... I went to Jason, Cory and Travis Luebbehusen’s house and we threw the tennis ball at each other as hard as we could and tried to hit it. You play. You’re outside. You’re kids. We’ve gotten to a point where if there’s not an umpire with a uniform on, they don’t know what the hell to do. We threw a ball up and hit it. We pitched to each other. We called our own strikes. We played with tennis balls. A lot of what’s going on is this conformity where if there’s no umpire and no fences and no scoreboard, we don’t know how to play.
Do you maintain any connections to baseball?
Outside of being a sounding board for some ex-teammates who text me, I stay in contact with teammates I played with and they’re mostly coaches and mangers now like (Cardinals manager Mike) Matheny and (Cardinals hitting coach) John Mabry. But I stay in contact with the Reds and (general manager) Walt (Jocketty) and the front office and (Reds manager) Bryan Price. I was more of a coach than player in Cincinnati anyway. Its’ just friendship and maybe a spillover to an outside opinion on things. Question here or there or text here or there, normally late at night when I’m in bed and they’re on their way home. At IU, I talk to (Hoosier head coach) Chris Lemonis a little bit. But I’ve kind of made it a point not to keep a schedule or job of any kind.
I’ve worked with kids from the Yankees three times. The Blue Jays with (2015 American League MVP) Josh Donaldson, he was having some trouble throwing. The GM and (manager) John Gibbons asked me to come in and talk to him. Two or three other prospects were there, too. Little bit of that on my schedule. But I’m not looking to miss anything with my family. That’s why I got out and that’s why I quit playing.
Friendships in your career. Those last long?
A very small, incredibly small amount of them do because you run across so many teammates. Out of 20 years, I have maybe five guys who are true friends. It’s like going to college. You meet people from different spots and you get where you grow up and high school friends you keep forever and you meet new people in baseball and maybe three to five of them remain close friends.
Do you miss the game?
I couldn’t compete. I don’t miss playing because I couldn’t compete. Playing is being competitive, I don’t care if I’m succeeding or not. Could I have gone another year? I could have probably in a part-time role. I had opportunities. (Dodgers manager Don) Mattingly called me. The Reds. The Rangers. A couple spots where I was an insurance policy. It wasn’t a contract dispute but I said if I have the chance to play every day, I’m going to have to get paid to play every day. I don’t care if I donate the money but I’m not going to sit here and as a bench player who ends up playing every day and be on the road away from my kids and my back’s killing me and my shoulder is killing me and my neck is killing me and I’m miserable. It ended up where it didn’t work out. Everything would have had to line up pretty well for me to play an extra year. I’m not in the dark about where I was physically. It was getting hard. It was hard to stay on the field and if you’re not on the field, you’re not valuable.
What’s it like to experience that realization?
You have choices. You can feel sorry for yourself, be (soft). But I know my limitations. You know your limitations. I knew when I was going to struggle against a pitcher or struggle getting up for a day game after a night game so let’s be fair about our expectations and let’s also be cerebral about hey I’m struggling, my body hurts, I’m not feeling good, I got a tough day, I just got done playing at 11 p.m. and I’m playing a 12 o’clock day game the next day. What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen is I’m not going to take BP and the first pitch I see in the zone, I’m going to let it rip. He’s not going to get a fastball by me today. That might be an 0-for-4 (day at the plate), but I might hit it hard, too. Let’s see if we can win a game with a swing today and play good defense. I’m not going to be grinding at-bats out today, I’ll tell you that. I’m going to try to get the bat head over the plate and see if I can crush this guy with a three-run homer and get loose and play ‘D.’
Do you have memories? Do you get nostalgic?
The thing I miss the most is the grind. The grind is (difficult) and I am kind of a glutton for that. That’s the part I miss the most is how hard everything was. That goes away pretty suddenly and you’ve done everything you can for 20 years to play, sweating your (butt) off, it’s 105 degrees. ... Missing that, that was a big hurdle to get over, but I made it.
Are there certain moments that stand out?
I appreciate what I don’t have to do rather than trying to drum up an emotion that’s 10 years old. We call it a game and there does come a point in time when it’s a job and a business. It doesn’t make it worse, but there is a transition where my little man firing his bat through the zone at 8 years old, that’s not what I did. That’s a game but nobody’s making money or losing money. There is no reality. I did have a job. I went to work every day. Some people view it as not a job, but it has its moments of difficulty with family and travel and your body. You live in dog years every once in a while. But I don’t regret anything, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. Believe me. There’s no chance of anything like that happening.
But I remember a handful of things. I was concise at the time with really positive emotions that happen on the field where are that moment I said, ‘Hey we’re going to remember this, right here, right now.’
I’ll give you two. One of them is 2004. We beat the Astros in Game 7 (of the National League Championship Series) at Busch Stadium and we had a dogpile in the middle of the field. Mike Matheny (then a Cardinals catcher) and I were standing by second base. There’s no better man in the world than Mike. I have a ton of respect for him, great teammate. He’s next to me and I was looking up at center field and there’s confetti everywhere. The place is going nuts and I turn to him and say, ‘Let’s both take a hard look at this one more time and remember this because this is special.’ That was one moment right there that I took a second and branded it.
The best moment of my career was the first game I played when I got called up. Mom and Dad (Linda and Ed) were in Florida at the time. Still living in Jasper, still teaching (but in Florida at that time of year). Mom won’t get on a plane. I got called up after a night game in Scranton (Pa.) to play a 1 p.m. day game in Philly, a doubleheader against the Cardinals. They drove overnight from Florida. About the fifth inning of the first game, I’m in the field and my mom and dad walk down the stairs to their seats. Whew. Almost (got teared up) right now. You can imagine what their faces looked like. I was at third base and I had a moment like, Oh my God. That’s the best moment of my career, not even close. That’s real right there. That’s parents watching, their pride and reciprocation of the way they brought me up and my appreciation of the way they brought me up and what I strive to be as a father. That was the best right there in my baseball career.
And now you’re a cook in a charity event. You’ll be here at 100 Men Who Cook in September. What are you making?
Todd and I are doing it together. We don’t know what the hell we’re going to do. I just found out the rules.
You cook at home?
I grill at home. I grill quite a bit. I’m sure we’ll grill something, box it up, let it get cold, reheat it and it’ll be fairly terrible.
A full story on the 100 Men Who Cook fundraiser can be found here.
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